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LEO head: ‘New normal’ more difficult, but doable

By Steve Krause | March 24, 2020

LYNN — Lynn Economic Opportunity CEO Birgitta S. Damon broke out a term that’s become common usage in the last two weeks — “the new normal” — to describe what’s going on with her agency.

In LEO’s case, “the new normal” is that the agency is providing services even though all its buildings remain closed. 

“This has been a difficult situation,” Damon said. “I have to praise the staff. We have really been resilient. 

“We’ve put their heads together to think about creative ways to serve our families and households through fuel assistance programs. And at the same time, they’ve had to keep themselves safe, keep families safe. They have shown their dedication to the mission.”

LEO’s mission is to “strengthen the Greater Lynn community through resources and services that provide opportunities for children, families and individuals to thrive.”

Damon says that despite the restrictions put in place to help combat the COVID-19 virus, Damon says LEO is doing exactly that.

The child development team is monitoring families to provide the education materials they need, and family services, including home visitations, are being conducted via phone and email.

English-for-Speakers-of-Other Languages (ESOL) programs have been moved to an online platform. 

Fuel assistance is processing applications by phone, fax and email. And weatherization is responding to “no heat” calls.

“We continue our local leadership for Census 2020,” she said. “Our in-person outreach has been suspended, but we are blasting the power of the count through all other channels. We are fact-checking and updating our online communications daily, (and) our maintenance staff continues to clean, disinfect, sanitize and protect our facilities.”

Damon said that navigating this kind of a crisis is difficult on a number of fronts.

“All of us are being impacted by this personally and professionally,” she said. “We all have family members who have lost jobs, people in our own households even. It makes doing your job even more difficult when you yourself are personally impacted.”

Damon said the situation is “spooky and unnerving.” But, she said, “so far we are fortunate to be able to pay the staff. We were able to work with each other and build up a rapport with families at the beginning of the year so now it’s a little easier to do it over the telephone.

“Families are comfortable with our service workers. That’s the critical piece to it.”

Damon, who is working from her Marblehead home until the crisis passes, sees the COVID-19 situation as an eye-opener.

“You see how many people are in need of our services,” she said. “And it’s kind of a cautionary tale about people who make assumptions about what low-income means, and of people who receive services like fuel assistance, or for the elderly and disabled. 

“People make assumptions that it’s a handout program,” Damon said. “It’s not. It is a program that helps fill the gap for families.”

However, there are some areas that might suffer. In the past, LEO’s main fundraising dinner has been held in the fall. Last year, the agency pushed it up to June, which is when it was planned this year too. Now, Damon said, that might have to change.

“We welcome your generosity,” Damon said to staff members in a letter. “Donating on our website is easy: You can send a check or a donation of food/baby formula/diapers to LEO Inc., 156 Broad Street, Lynn,01901.”